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Let us not judge Pakistan, our all-weather friend

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by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

The brutal murder of Priyantha Kumara (PK) by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan, should be unreservedly condemned. This dastardly act was committed over blasphemy allegations against PK. It is outrageous that religious zealots have taken the law into their hands in this day and age.

I am very confident that a significant majority of Pakistani people are horrified and ashamed of this dreadful murder. However, the actions of a few hundred idiots should not define the people of Pakistan or our relationship with them. Some of the readers may have, over the years, read articles written by my late brother Rajeewa and by me of the special relationship between the two countries. The articles were based on our experience living in Pakistan for over four and half years, though half a century ago.

To coincide with the visit of Imran Khan, the Pakistan Prime Minister, to Sri Lanka a few months back, I wrote an article titled “Pakistan’s Love of Sri Lanka.” I highlighted several instances when Pakistan came to our assistance, whether it be on supply of urgently needed military equipment and ammunition to wage war against the LTTE, in support of our application for full membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC), enabling us to play test cricket, at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) or supply of urgently required rice. The list is much longer.

Therefore, I am appalled to have read media reports of certain high ranking politicians from the government and the opposition making unnecessary comments about Pakistan. For example, there was a request to recall all Sri Lankan nationals living in Pakistan if their safety could not be guaranteed, which I feel is absurd. There was also criticism of the Defence Minister of Pakistan based on a statement attributed to the Minister. Given our close relations with Pakistan, I believe any adverse comments are conveyed through diplomatic channels instead of through our media.

However, I was aghast to read an editorial in an English daily captioned ” Issue Travel Advisory on Panjab.” It called for the GOSL to issue a travel advisory about visiting the Panjab province based on this incident and the attack on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricketers in 2009. The editorial stated that the travel advisory should be lifted only after the Pakistani government assures the safety and security of all Sri Lankans living in Pakistan and passes certain laws that ensure such safety. I understand that politicians will make irresponsible statements to score brownie points, but it is another matter when erudite editors go over the top.

We need to remember that Khuram Shaikh Zaman, I believe a Pakistani born British Citizen working for the Red Cross holidaying in Sri Lanka with his Russian girlfriend, was murdered in a hotel in Tangalle. I doubt that the Pakistan government issued a travel advisory against Pakistanis visiting Sri Lanka. Even the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has issued a statement requesting the Prime Minister of Pakistan to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the murder of PK and that they will be closely observing the legal proceeding. Religious leaders, too, have issued statements condemning the murder.

It is only correct that all right-thinking people worldwide should condemn this senseless act. However, my view is that as Lankans, we should not get on a high horse. We only need to cast our memory back to July 1983 when hundreds of innocent Tamil people were killed inside their houses, vehicles and some on the road. Many of them, too, were burnt. At that time, the President of the country and the state machinery went into virtual hibernation, and marauding gangs looted and murdered innocent Tamil people.

In contrast, Imran Khan has issued an immediate statement condemning the murder of PK and also that legal action will be taken against those who committed the murder. He is reported to have stated that this incident has brought shame on Pakistan. We have seen TV footage of several persons being arrested and taken to court. Also, a Pakistani man who tried valiantly to protect PK and save his life was praised for his heroic act and, in recognition, given a national award for his bravery by the government of Pakistan.

The Sri Lankan public and our politicians, in particular, should appreciate the efforts of Imran Khan for his outright condemnation of those responsible for this disgraceful incident and for ensuring that the state machinery moved immediately to arrest those responsible. This is a far cry from what took place in 1983 in our country. Then, many Sinhalese risked their own lives and properties to safeguard and protect the lives of their Tamil friends and neighbours. However, those acts of bravery were done in extreme secrecy, and none were praised and awarded national honours. Moreover, the state never apologized to the Tamil people who lost their lives or loved ones. I do not remember too many people calling for an investigation into what took place and to punish those who committed those crimes despite the extreme upheaval it caused.

I wish to assure the readers that my intention in comparing the two incidents is not to rationalize what happened to PK in Sialkot but to request our politicians, religious leaders, opinion-makers and the media not to judge the nation of Pakistan nor its people based on the actions of a few hundred idiots in Sialkot.

Our memories must not be short. So let us remember to acknowledge and thank the efforts of the Pakistani government in saving thousands of our soldiers encircled in Jaffna by the LTTE. I reproduce below a paragraph from an article written by my late brother captioned ” Sri Lanka forgetting old friends” published in the Sunday Island of September 22, 2019.

” The LTTE overran the Elephant Pass army base during their offensive code-named Operation Ceaseless Waves in May 2000. The lives of thousands of Sri Lankan troops based in Jaffna ran the risk of annihilation. The Sri Lanka Navy could not mount a full-scale evacuation. Indian assistance was sought but declined. The government decided to procure Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers System (MBRLS) for the army. President Parvez Musharraf of Pakistan was the first to respond by dispatching equipment in use with their military and undertook an emergency operation of airlifting the MBRLS from Karachi. Stocks in regular use in training exercises were considered less likely to malfunction. It was a rare occasion of a nation assisting another nation at the expense of its defences and national interests. The fall of Jaffna was averted, and thousands of troops in Jaffna were saved due to the timely arrival of MBRLS from Pakistan, followed by China and the Czech Republic. If not for this, thousands of mothers could have lost their sons, wives, their husbands, and children their fathers.”

It is the last sentence that should resonate with all those who have recently criticized the nation of Pakistan.

I spoke to a former military officer who served in the forces during the war against the LTTE. He recalled the numerous occasions when Pakistan rushed arms and ammunition to our country with gratitude and appreciation. He related how in 1986 when it was discovered that the LTTE possessed armaments that the Sri Lanka forces did not have and our request to both the USA and UK by President J R Jayawardene for similar weapons was turned down, it was the President of Pakistan who within 24 hours sent a planeload of similar armaments with no strings attached. He also said that the friendship extended to him by all Pakistanis because he was from Sri Lanka was unique on his official visits to Pakistan.

There are numerous other instances when Sri Lanka benefited from Pakistan’s generosity and willingness to help. Pakistan has undoubtedly been our all-weather friend. Therefore, it is my appeal that we do not judge Pakistan as a nation and its people due to the actions of a few hundred idiots. Let this incident be a reminder to all of us that religious extremism is unhealthy in any part of the world. Those who promote such extremism should be shunned by society, and legal action taken to ensure that they do not cause disharmony.



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UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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